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Former Olympic High School football coach dies at age 44
On days when Jamee Paluay skipped class, the first teacher she heard from was Eric Allen.
He was never upset or disappointed, Paluay remembers, but he was always concerned.
"If I wasn't there, he would always talk to me and ask me if things were OK," Paluay said. "He wasn't there just to teach in the classroom. He genuinely cared."
Allen died in his sleep early Wednesday morning at his home on Key Peninsula after a 10-year battle with brain cancer. He was 44.
A social studies and physical education teacher at Olympic High School, Allen coached the football team from 2005 to 2008.
He took a one-year leave in 2009 to focus on his health. Prior to his arrival at Olympic, Allen coached 10 seasons at Lincoln High School in Tacoma.
He is credited by his colleagues, players and students for not only revitalizing the Trojans' football program, but also reinvigorating the Olympic hallways.
"He brought a new energy and exuberance," Athletic Director Nate Andrews said.
Blake Johnson, a senior who played under Allen for two seasons, learned from his coach that life should be about people. He admired Allen for having a positive outlook on life, despite his health, and because he encouraged players to better themselves on and off the field.
"He went through so much, but he still loved," Johnson said. "He definitely took the worst situations and made the best of everything."
Players were held accountable under Allen's watch, Johnson remembers, and that inspired players to try harder.
He was a good motivator, too, and fostered a family atmosphere on the gridiron and in the classroom.
"If I live life like he did, I can't go wrong," Johnson said.
Tim Allbee, Olympic's interim head coach for the 2009 season, credits Allen for revitalizing the football program. Allbee was an assistant coach at Olympic before Allen arrived, and they both interviewed for the head-coaching position in 2005.
Allen was selected over Allbee.
Discouraged, and admittedly bitter, Allbee decided to stay on the staff as an assistant.
"He got me to see that the coaching job was about the kids, not me," Allbee said. "We grew very close, very quickly. Eric became the brother I never had."
The two exchanged heated moments on the sideline and in the locker room, and at times were frank with each other, but they shared common goals and became close friends off the field.
It was Allen's ability to simplify things that Allbee admired. And the passion Allen brought to his job.
"He was just a source of energy," Allbee said. "He just got fired up and into school spirit and to support Olympic High School."
The Trojans were 18-22 under Allen, and the 2010 senior class advanced to the Class 3A state tournament three consecutive seasons. It was the first time in school history the team advanced to state three consecutive times.
Wife Jill Allen said she learned from her husband what it meant to live life to the fullest each day. They met at a football camp at the University of Puget Sound and married in 2000. Although they never had children, they have a dog named B.J.
Those who knew Allen well remember him most for the passion he brought to life away from the gridiron, she said. It wasn't always about football.
"He really taught me what that meant," she said. "He was passionate about all of it."
Paluay, who graduated from Olympic in 2008, visited Allen at his home March 10 and again March 12. After those visits, she decided to launch a campaign to honor the teacher and coach.
The idea was to order special bracelets and sell them for $5 during lunch, with proceeds going to a charity of Jill Allen's choice.
That charity will be the Chris Elliot Fund, dedicated to brain cancer research.
A date hasn't been determined to begin selling the bracelets, but Paluay ordered 500 and hopes to have them available as soon as possible. The bracelets will be similar to “livestrong” bracelets, but a little larger. They will have white lettering and a gray ribbon to represent brain cancer.
Paluay also created a Facebook page to honor of Eric Allen, and as of Wednesday, more than 450 people had signed up.
Johnson, meanwhile, said he will carry Eric Allen in his heart during baseball season because he is a source of inspiration.
"We want to let his entire family know that Olympic High School loves them," Johnson said.